MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Clashes erupted in Marawi City on Tuesday afternoon, May 23, as the military moved to hunt down "high-value targets" belonging to the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group.
City residents took to social media to post photos of military presence, suspected Maute members waving ISIS black flags, and fire in the city.
Prompted by information about the presence of armed men in the area, the military launched at 2 pm an operation in Barangay Basak Malutlut, a residential and commercial area between Mindanao State University and the city center.
Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of the military's 1st Infantry Division, said soldiers acted based on information from the local community.
"At 2 pm today, a surgical strike was launched to neutralize high-value targets coming from Maute Group. Based on reports from the community, they monitored armed men who wanted to do terroristic [attacks]," said Herrera in a phone interview.
"We launched a surgical operation to verify [the information] and we confirmed the presence of armed groups," Herrera said. (READ: Military sending more troops to Marawi amid Maute attack)
Rappler sources said the military was targeting combined forces of the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group, two local terror groups that have pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group Islamic State.
Marawi City is adjacent to the known lair of the Maute Group in Butig town, both in the province of Lanao del Sur.
The Maute Group last year occupied and raised ISIS' black flag at the Butig Municipal Hall. It took weeks of military operations before soldiers retook the government building. (READ: PH flag replaces ISIS black banner at Butig town hall)
Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon, based in Basilan in the western part of Mindanao, reportedly brought some of his men to Lanao del Sur in late 2016 to join the Maute Group.
He was believed to have been severely wounded in one of the military's air strikes. – Rappler.com